Breaking Catch-22 of engineering education for sustainable development: an example of parallell learning of teachers and students

  • Johanna Lönngren, Engineering Education Research, Department of Applied IT, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

    D Jacobsson, Department of Physics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    E Marsell, Department of Physics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Elisabeth Nilsson, Department of Physics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Both research and practical experience show that teachers have trouble implementing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (Bursjõõ 2011), especially in engineering education where a culture of value-neutrality and objectivity still seems to prevail (see for example Holmberg et al 2008). Consequently, the integration of ESD into engineerig curricula is often insufficient in respect to requirements set up by the Swedish Higher Education Act: graduates of engineering are expected to possess complex skills connected to ethics and sustainable development (Hõgskolefõrordningen 1993).

    The purpose of this presentation is to provide a positive example of how these problems have been overcome in a specific engineering program at Lund University. We discuss the introduction of an innovative course by a group of students and faculty without substantive prior expertise or experience in Engineering Education for Sustainable Delopment (EESD).

    We (some of the course developers/course leaders) use collaborative action research methodology to discuss similarities and differences in teachers’ (ours) and students’ learning in the process of creating and subsequently improving this specific EESD-intervention. Our analysis is based on personal reflections and focus group discussions by the course developers/course leaders, as well as students’ course evaluations from three consecutive years, and EESD litterature.

    As an analytical lens, we use the concept of Communities of Practice (CoP). We identify two levels of CoPs: 1. The team of teachers (senior teachers in collaboration with highly motivated students) working with the course over the years, and 2. All actors involved in each years’ course cycle., i.e. the group of teachers and the enroled students. In relation to these CoPs, we also identify two (partly overlapping) cycles of action learning which relate, respectively, to the course development over the years, and our work with each specific course cycle. The purpose of this analysis and discussion is to uncover parallell learning of teachers and students as the course evolves.

    Another purpose is to facilitate the implementation of EESD. Therefore, we also reflect on the perceived prerequisite of teachers’ expertise for teaching sustainable development in engineering curricula. We discuss the specific conditions that allowed the creation and execution of our course with the aim to empower other teachers to venture on the undertaking of EESD in their courses by trusting the development of their own skills “by doing EESD”. Thus we hope to contribute to an icnreased integration of ESD into engineering programs in Sweden and abroad.